Spiritual Christmas Gift List

Monday, December 22, 2014


Gift giving is a Christmas tradition ever since the Wise Men went bearing gifts to the baby Jesus. 

You all may have gift giving traditions in your family. We do. The whole family – all 20 of us – go to my parents house on Christmas morning as we have for my whole life. We eat breakfast -  pretty much the same menu for 60 years. Egg dish, biscuits, ham, fruit, something sweet and the Le Conte Sunrise, a fruit slushy. We hear the Christmas story and then in descending order of age, we descend down the stairs to the basement, pausing to have our picture  made on the last step and enter Christmas wonderland. The gifts are stacked in the exact same place as the year before and the year before, etc. We each know exactly where to go. Then we begin the opening. Some years we try to bring more order than others, but with the tribe increasing, it takes too long to wait on every person to open a gift before moving on to the next. If family members are getting the same gift, we make sure they open them at the same time. It’s all complete organized chaos and a whole lot of joy. Then we all simmer down and watch the matriarch and patriarch open their gifts. There are always a lot of laughs and some tears, for someone always manages to give a framed photo of a momentous occasion and we all ooh and aah and snap the cameras. Yes, gift giving is an important part of celebrating in my family.

Giving is important because of the effort, love and time it takes to make or purchase an appropriate gift. And in wrapping, mailing or delivering it! There is usually a lot of love wrapped up with gift giving! Some of us enjoy giving even more than receiving. We rejoice in our ability to create little blessings in people’s lives, by the things we are able to do for them!

We also need to make a Spiritual Christmas Gift List. Who are the people that you need to show the love of Jesus to during this season? Are there people you come across in your everyday life that need a little dose of Jesus?

The women of Christmas – Mary, Elizabeth, and Anna – offered spiritual gifts.

As we close, let’s look at the gifts our women of Christmas gave.

Elizabeth’s gift was joy. Elizabeth was joyful in her own news and in Mary’s news. It’s easy to be joyful when good things happen to us but how joyful are we with the good news of others?  Elizabeth stayed joyful even when she didn’t understood how in her old age she could bear a child. She stayed joyful when Mary arrived to share her own good news.

Mary’s gift was faith. Mary didn’t understand the news the angel brought. How could a virgin conceive.  However, because of her faith she accepted what she was told and was honored to be a part of God’s big plan.

Anna’s gift was gratitude. Anna was an old and lonely widow living in the temple. She spent her time worshipping God day and night and waiting for the redemption of Israel. She responds to the visit of the baby Jesus with thanksgiving. She’s thankful even after many years of hardship and loneliness.

Let’s pay attention to the gifts these women brought.. This Christmas, I pray that you use the gifts these women have brought: the joy of Elizabeth, the faith of Mary, and the thanksgiving of Anna.

Let us pray that God will show us the individuals in our world who still need the gift of Jesus. Let’s add them to our spiritual Christmas List.

 Every good and perfect gift is from above.              James 1:17

To hear the full audio of this lesson, click here.
Spiritual Christmas Gift List

Mary and Joseph: Life Interrupted

Thursday, December 18, 2014


Mary and Joseph had a life interrupted, so to speak. This happily engaged couple must have been in the middle of wedding plans when their lives took a sudden turn. You know what it’s like to be engaged - picking out the location, the cake, the guest list, and making all the other hundreds decisions betrothed couples make.  Then…the angel visits. Suddenly, their lives center on very different decisions. Joseph finds himself with an unmarried but pregnant fiancée. His initial knee jerk reaction was to quietly divorce her. He could have embarrassed her, disgraced her, or let her be killed…but he “considered these things.” I’m sure there were many potential joy stealers in Nazareth waiting to pounce on any bit of scandal! Joseph listened to the angel and considered God’s opinion before making his final decision. The gospel writer Luke tells us Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. Luke 1:24

 Joseph consulted God when his life was interrupted.

So what do you do when your plans get interrupted? Who do you consult when your plans are dashed, your ideas are nixed, when you experience disappointments, defeat or failure. Whose opinion do you consider when people attempt to bring disgrace to you? The naysayers and joy stealers? When life is interrupted, it’s important to consult God, the one who came to bring joy, not steal it.

Not only were there plans interrupted but Mary and Joseph had to deal with the reactions of the townspeople. I’m sure there were the gawkers, the critics, and the judgers. How about those who might have even be envious? These people would make many attempts to steal the joy right out from under Mary and Joseph. We’ve all experienced joy stealers.  Desperate people take desperate measures to steal our joy. God created the beautiful deep blue oceans for us to enjoy and to provide us food, yet sharks still swim in the ocean. And so it is with people. God created people to do good and to love each other, but there are still “sharks” among us. What’s so sad is these joy stealers in Joseph and Mary’s lives probably believed they were doing and saying God’s work and righteous Jews.  Self-righteous, sanctimonious people sat in judgment on the work God himself was doing. You know what is wonderful to think about? Mary and Joseph had a God who gives joy and doesn’t steal it. They both trusted God. And think about this, Mary and Joseph had the truth on their side. They lived in the truth, an important lesson when someone tries to steal our joy with lies and deception.

Do you think Mary and Joseph recalled the words of Samuel when they were dealing with joy stealers?

 17 “He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
    he drew me out of deep waters.
18 He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
    from my foes, who were too strong for me.
19 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
    but the Lord was my support.
20 He brought me out into a spacious place;
    he rescued me because he delighted in me. 2 Samuel 22:17-20 New International Version (NIV)

What can we do when our plans are interrupted and when people try to steal our joy?

Pray
For courage, wisdom, guidance, and peace. Sing prayer of praise to God in the middle of the interruption.

Mary sang, My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. Luke 1:46

Process
Properly process the information. Look for the truth of the situation. Deal with what you know to be true.  Consider these questions: are you dealing with a life changing interruption or a momentary bump in the road? Is this interruption a true catastrophe or are you dealing with catastrophic thinking? Look at the reality. Find where God is in the situation. Live in the truth of what you know and not in the speculation of the unknown.

Mary and Joseph trusted the angel. They believed that God could do a miracle through the power of the Holy Spirit. I’m sure they had many discussions about the unlikelihood that Mary had been unfaithful, but they lived in the facts of the situation and trusted God with the details.

Properly React
After praying and processing what you know to be true, be intentional, assertive, positive, and proactive in your response. Avoid knee jerk, negative actions that you will regret.

Joseph initially had a very human knee jerk reaction. He wanted to completely distance himself from Mary. However, after processing what he knew to be true, he properly reacted. He acted as God would have him act.

Providence
God is in control. God is in control. He is waiting to give his love and support and his peace in the interruptions. There’s an old gospel song that my sister and I sing out every once in a while called, “God’s still running this world.”  When we have doubts, interruptions, or come across joy stealers, we can find comfort in knowing that God is in control. We can lean into him.

Just as Mary and Joseph experienced interruptions, so do we. Our lives don’t always go as expected either. There are people who want to interrupt us and those who want to steal our joy. When they come, let’s give them to God and praise him in the middle of them. God will work things out.


To hear the audio of this lesson, click here.
Mary and Joseph: Life Interrupted 


 

 

Women of Christmas: Elizabeth

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


The gospel writer Luke uses the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah, parents of John the Baptist, to set the stage for the birth of Jesus. This couple had lived a long and happy life together seemingly content even though they didn’t have the child they longed for. Elizabeth’s barrenness is seen as a disgrace and the couple endure years of people attempting to dishonor them or shun them. However, they are more concerned about what God thought than what others thought -  a good foundation for a marital relationship, by the way!

Then… Gabriel is visited by the angel Gabriel who tells him Elizabeth will bear a son who will be great in the sight of the Lord and who will prepare the way for the coming Messiah. Unfortunately, in the most momentous encounter of his life, Zechariah doubts. As a consequence, he is struck speechless.  Luke tells us,

 Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months. 25 “How kind the Lord is!” she exclaimed. “He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.” Luke 1: 24-25

For the entire pregnancy Zechariah is speechless. However, he remains faithful to God. After the birth, at the circumcision ceremony, Zechariah confirms the name when he writes it on the tablet. “His name is John.” Instantly, John could speak again. His first words were of praise to God.

Elizabeth and Zechariah serve as heroes of the faith. Zechariah represents those who may doubt God for a moment but are willing to obey. Elizabeth embodies those who remain faithful and praise God even when they don’t understand his workings.  Even though they felt hopeless, God was waiting for the right time to encourage them and take away their disgrace. We see through them that God can do great things to anyone who allows God to work within.

This is the most exciting thought for me – God is working behind the scenes on our behalf too even when we don’t realize it. Imagine all the days, months, years of forethought that went in to choosing Elizabeth and Zechariah to give birth to John the Baptist the man who would prepare the way for the Messiah. Imagine all the years people had attempted to bring shame to their name, to dishonor them, to discredit them because they were childless. All along, God was working behind the scenes on their behalf. Elizabeth and Zechariah would have known the words of the prophet Jeremiah: God “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” He had a plan and purpose for their lives and when the time came for him to reveal it, they were found faithful.

Elizabeth and Zechariah offer us encouragement when we face doubt or feel hopeless or when people attempt to disgrace us. This righteous couple trusted in God and held on to each other during the times when people must have scorned them. And when the pronouncement came from the angel that Elizabeth would give birth at an old age and then she appeared in public for the first time, I’m sure the naysayers and doubters attempted to stir up a scandal. But through it all Elizabeth praised God and proclaimed, “The Lord has done this for me. How kind the Lord is.”

Let’s remember that God is working behind the scenes on our behalf. God wants us to know our purpose and to live an exceedingly abundant life. When we face doubt or feel hopeless or when people attempt to disgrace us, let’s remember that God is faithful. In order to live in our purpose and enjoy God’s abundance we need to do as Elizabeth did: trust and obey. The old hymn tells us, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way. To be happy in Jesus we must trust and obey.”

 For more of my lesson on Women of Christmas: Elizabeth, click the audio link below.

 

Thursday, November 13, 2014


When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. I Corinthians 13:11

This passage calls on us to put away three childish behaviors: talking like a child, thinking like a child, and reasoning like a child. In our relationships do we fall back into childish habits of speaking, thinking, and reasoning?

Speaking
How does a child speak? A child speaks to ask for things. A child speaks about wanting and wishing.  A child whines, pouts, and shouts.

Strategies for Mature Speaking
1.     Set a guard over your mouth –
Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Psalm 141:3 (NIV)
Take control of what I say, O Lord, and guard my lips. Psalm 141:3 (NLT)
2.     Mind the gap – Use the time between the stimulus and your response to consider your words.
3.     Don’t engage in verbal battle
“Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something” (Plato).
4.     Lower the volume: You can’t carry on an argument in a whisper.
5.     Visualize your response before you respond. Picture it in action and then in the aftermath, ask, “Is this the response I want?” and “Is this the response Christ wants?”
6.    Engage in effective communication - Communicate exactly what you are feeling: “Please listen to me. Please understand why I’m feeling this way. Can you do me the favor of being patient?”
7.    Take a break -  If you need to cool off before attempting a conversation, give yourself a time out. Temporarily disengage. Be sure to re-engage and communicate in a considerate, positive, assertive tone..

Thinking

How does a child think?
The child thinks:
·         It’s not my problem.
·         I want that—give it to me.
·         I’m right.
·         That’s not fair.
·         If I cry, I’ll get my way.
·         If I wait long enough, someone else will do it.
·         Rules apply to everyone but me.

In The Child’s Conception of the World (1965) Jean Piaget described how children think.  Children often jump to conclusions and over generalize because they have limited information.  They play the blame game. They focus on self. They make mountains out of molehills. They live so much in the moment that they block out past positive experiences when they are in a bad situation. Many adults never grow out of this childish mindset.

Strategies for Mature Thinking
Think Intentionally –Deliberately choose to think positively and assertively. This is a pro-active approach. 
  • Ugly thoughts = ugly action
  • Positive thoughts = positive actions
  • Intentional thoughts=intentional actions
When the bad thought enters your mind, replace it by following these steps.
1.    Rename it – Tell yourself this thought is a negative, bad, ungodly, unkind, etc. thought
2.    Re-frame it – Focus on a positive or distracting thought
3.    Redirect your actions to something uplifting, fun, or engaging.

Reasoning
Finally Paul urges us to get rid of childish reasoning. How does a child reason? It may sound like this: “I’ve done something I was not supposed to do. But, if Mom and Dad don’t find out, I can get away with it.  So…I don’t feel bad about it. I can pull off a fast one!” 

What is reasoning? -  the process of thinking about something in a logical way in order to form a conclusion or judgment. The child reasons based on his perception at the moment.  Children don’t reason well because their brain is not even fully formed. The pre-fontal cortex where judgment and self-control are located is not fully formed until the mid-20s.

Strategies for Mature Reasoning
·         Avoid rushing to a decision.
·         Establish and verify facts of the situation/relationship/arrangement
·         Consider the consequences of actions.
·         Determine a logical response

Speaking, Thinking, Reasoning Like an Adult
As a child grows, his egocentric circle changes. He becomes less self-absorbed and more other absorbed. The more mature we become in our faith, the less self absorbed we become. The passage in I Corinthians is a good reminder to put away childish things in our relationships.

To hear my audio recording “Responding to a Biblical Fool,” click below.

Responding to a Biblical Fool

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


In her book Fool Proofing Your Life, Jan Silvious says a biblical fool has these three characteristics:

1.    Always thinks he is right
           The way of a fool is right in his own eye,
           But a wise man is he who listens to counsel.
           Proverbs 12:15

2.     Uses anger to control
           A fool always loses his temper,
           But a wise man holds it back. Proverbs 29:11

3.     Trusts his own heart
           He who trusts in his own heart is a fool,
           But he who walks wisely will be delivered. Proverbs 28:26

In an attempt to change our fool or just to keep things on an even keel, Jan says we use foolish strategies over and over.
  • Pampering
  • Pouting
  • Passivity
  • Protecting
  • Pleading
  • Pleasing
  • Prodding
Any of these responses indicate the fool is controlling the relationship, one the fool has defined.

Jan asks us to consider this question, “What will it take for the companion of a fool, to stop doing the same thing over  and over again?” It is insanity. I believe the answer lies in boundaries.

Set Boundaries with an Iron Hand and a Velvet Glove

The iron hand of firmness and the velvet glove of grace. The best response to our fools is an assertive one.

We have 3 ways to deal with others:  passively, assertively, and aggressively. 

·         Passive:  We can passively stand by and let others direct our lives and our relationships.

·         Aggressive:  We can aggressively cross boundaries and make sure everyone knows that we are in charge or that we are needy. This is often an angry outburst, an over the top response.

·         Assertive:  We can go for the middle and assertively state our beliefs and our boundaries. This is a case when the middle ground is the appropriate one.

Kind (velvet) but firm (iron) boundary setting is healthy. Boundaries allow us to take responsibility for our own lives. They keep the focus on our positive proactive response to the foolish person instead of negative reactive response. Boundaries keep us from being a victim of the fool.  Our responsibility in a relationship is to do whatever we can do to make the relationship a good one.

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18

A relationship with Biblical fool is challenging. Setting boundaries with a measured, even, assertive tone and then enforcing the boundaries allows you to define the relationship.
 
Be firm, direct, and follow through!
 
 

Sin of Rebellion

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was placed in the Garden for a specific reason. It was a boundary. It was the one area of the Garden reserved for God. God placed this tree in the center of the garden and told Adam and Eve not to eat its fruit. Doing so would mean that they would have knowledge or awareness of not only good things but also evil things. The Hebrew word for evil that is used in the tree's description — ra‘ — implies a sense of misery or grief. It points to something extremely sorrowful. Adam and Eve had beautiful trees full of life. But this tree opened up a new world, one that held misery and sorrow and grief. Adam and Eve’s sin opened up the world of misery and sorrow and grief.

Pastor Mark Flynn refers to sin this way, “Sin is much bigger than the wrong actions we do or bad thoughts we have…Sin is the state of rebellion against God that causes us to ask at every juncture, ‘do I choose to be obedient to God?’ The ‘wrong’ actions, words, or thoughts are an outgrowth of nurturing the rebellions against God.”

Rebellion is first and actions follow. Both involve our CHOICE.

Sin is not the action of eating the forbidden eat. It is the initial rebellious decision to disobey God. The result of sin (disobedience to God) is that it breaks the order of creation. The immediate consequence of their sin is shame and fear. They now have a broken relationship with God, the same God who gave them the original blessing, the God who created them and blessed them as very good. The couple’s relationship with their Creator God is changed by their sin.

When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” Genesis 3:8-9

They now hide from God and see God as a threat and they fear his punishment. This is why they hide from him.  But notice the first question that God asks – “Where are you?” What does this question tell us about God?

God pursues us. The first question God asks shows us how God recognizes we are not near to him and so he calls us back. This is the question he asks throughout the stories of Scripture. He begins his relentless pursuit of us from the very beginning of creation. From the first sin we see that God is pursuing man. His greatest desire is for us to respond to his pursuit by running to him. When we stray, he still wants us to return to him.

Where does God find you? Running toward him or away from him? God wants to extend his love and mercy and grace.

Six Bible Covenants

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

To hear an audio of the Covenant lesson, click here. Covenants
The original blessing is that we are created and blessed as very good in God’s sight.
The original sin of rebellion is a rejection of God and God’s blessing.
Brokenness is the term that describes the fundamental disorder in creation that affects a person's relationships and creative activity.

 God will eventually restore creation to the original blessing. While we wait, God uses his faithful followers to transform the world. He uses covenants to keep the faithful on track.

 Covenants are pacts established by God to reconnect the people of God with the Creator.

 Let’s consider six great Bible covenants.

 1.    God's Covenant with Adam and Eve – Genesis 1-2
God created Adam and Eve to live in the garden and enjoy fellowship with God. They were given the boundary: do not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve’s responsibility was to be obedient. They were to live within the boundary.

The family form of this covenant was man and wife.

2.    God's Covenant with Noah - Genesis 6:5-9:17

The Lord singled out Noah from among all his contemporaries and chose him as the man to accomplish a great work.
When God saw the wickedness that prevailed in the world, he told Noah of his plan to destroy the world by a universal flood. God instructed Noah to build an ark in which he and his family would survive. This responsibility meant that Noah had to act. He had to do something! With confidence in God, Noah started building the ark. Noah continued to preach God's judgment and mercy but people continued in their evil ways and ignored his pleadings and warnings until the flood overtook them. Noah was grateful to the Lord who had delivered him from the flood. After the flood, he built an altar to God and made a sacrifice. God made a covenant promise to Noah when he promised never again to destroy the earth with a flood. As a sign of the covenant, he gave the beautiful rainbow.

The family form used in this covenant was the traditional family.

3.  God's Covenant with Abraham - Genesis 12
Years after the Flood, pride leads the people to rebel against God by constructing the tower of Babel. After having scattered them all over the world, God would eventually choose one man and one nation as the instrument of His blessing to the entire world. In his covenant with Abraham, God asked him to leave his home and family and go to an unnamed land. Abraham had a responsibility to be obedient to God. Like Noah, he had to “act.” God promised to make Abraham’s descendants into a great nation and bless all of the nations through his lineage. From Abraham’s line came the 12 tribes of Israel.

The family form used in this covenant was the family tribe.

4.   God's Covenant with Moses - Exodus 6:1-9, 19:1-8, 24:1-8
In this covenant God gives his divine laws to Moses on Mount Sanai. Once again, we see how God uses people. At 80 years old and having traveled the desert for 3 months, Moses followed God and walked up the mountain in full obedience. The blessings that God promised in this covenant are directly related to Israel’s obedience to the Mosaic Law.  If Israel is obedient, then God will bless them, but if they disobey, then God will punish them.  God’s intention was to build a holy nation of people who obeyed his laws.

The family form of this covenant was a holy nation.

5.   God's Covenant with David  - 2 Samuel 7:1-7
After the people disobeyed the commands made in the previous covenant, God made a covenant with David as a means to bring them back into relationship with Himself. God makes an unconditional covenant to David and his descendants and promises that his house will rule over Israel forever. The promise that David’s “house,” “kingdom,” and “throne” will be established forever is significant because it shows that the Messiah will come from the lineage of David

The family form in this covenant is an eternal royal kingdom

6. The Covenant of Christ  - Luke 22:14-20

Jesus gathers his disciples for the Passover meal and tells of his upcoming sacrificial death that will usher in a new covenant. The "new covenant" is the new agreement God has made with mankind, based on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The new covenant accomplished what the old could not. It fulfills the old covenant. Christ death takes away our sin The shedding of his blood means that all animal sacrifice is obsolete.

The family form for this covenant is a universal worldwide Kingdom, or His Church

Notice how the family form progressed with each of God's six covenants - man and wife, family, tribe, nation, kingdom, universal worldwide kingdom.  What a beautiful image of the family is presented through the covenants. We see with each covenant God reveals more of himself until he is revealed fully in Jesus Christ. Even while man failed time after time, God has been true to each of his covenants.  

We too live in a covenant relationship with our Creator God. Our relationship with Jesus is based upon covenant. When we trust Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we began a relationship. At the time of our confession, repentance and trust in Jesus, we entered into a covenant. Our goal in our relationship with Christ is to become pleasing to God in every part of our lives. He wants to bless us and give us eternal life in him.

 

 
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